Discover the art of gouache in high jewelry

Fine jewelry is one of the last redoubts of gouache painting, a traditional craft that is as much a design tool as it is an art form.

Gouache: the word itself describes nothing more than a type of water-based, opaque paint, used since the 18th century to create art and illustrations. But talking about gouache in a high jewelry context and it becomes more than just a painting or a technique. Jewelry design dates back to the Renaissance, but the gouache technique in jewelry design has only flourished since the late 19th century. In fine jewelry, gouache is an art form that encompasses a designer’s dream, an artisan’s blueprint, and a collector’s treasure.

Adopted by jewelry designers as part of the design process, a gouache painting marks the point where art and design merge, a creative vision is born, and the jewelry making process begins. A gouache painting is a rendering, a 1:1 scale illustration of jewelry to convey the designer’s vision to the artisans who create the jewelry itself.

A gouache painting of an oval shaped blue sapphire
A gouache painting of an oval shaped blue sapphire

Unlike watercolour, gouache is opaque and allows colors to be superimposed without the different layers showing through. Due to the opacity of paint, white can also be used as a color, which is essential for showing the effect of light on stones, facets and diamonds. Thus, gouache has the unique ability to convey the different colors of precious stones, the textures of gold and all the precious details that make up jewelry.

Marina Fulchiron, jewelry designer and teacher at L’École des Arts Joailliers who teaches several courses on the art of gouache, explains her story to us. “The gouache technique was initially used throughout the jewelry research process to achieve color variations of a model with different materials by creating colored gouache sketches on tracing paper,” he explains. She.

“Today, when we talk about gouache we most often talk about the finalized gouache, which takes up all the details of the stones, the colors, the golds of the chosen mode. This is an important and essential step in this profession, because it is at the same time the final step in the creative process before the manufacture of the jewel to come. And yet gouache is also the beginning of another stage in the creation of three-dimensional jewelry when a model is made in wax or metal. The life-size gouache is therefore both a technical drawing and an artistic drawing which will be used by all the craftsmen and jewelers, gemologists, lapidaries, setters, polishers who will produce the model as well as the design, marketing and sales teams to prepare the collection.”

A craftsman at work at L'Ecole des Arts Joailliers
A craftsman at work at L’Ecole des Arts Joailliers

The gouacheur is a very popular profession in the world of jewelry, an essential member of the creative team who deals with this singular paper, key to the imagination, the realization and the realization of a design project. fine jewelry. Fulchiron studied to become a graphic designer and illustrator, but fell in love with gouache during an internship at a jeweler in Place Vendôme. She then worked for Boucheron for 17 years before freelancing for various companies and teaching at L’École to pass on her know-how to future generations.

Rather than a color copy, customers often expect original gouaches that showcase the designs and show the quality of the jewelry better than any computer-drawn work. “This desire for collections presented annually and drawn catalogs has created a profession for the gouacheur jeweler, who will produce all the gouaches in the collection once the jewels have been created”, specifies Fulchiron.

At Piaget, gouache painting is a crucial part of the design process. Stephanie Sivriere, Director of Product Design, says: “Digital tools are a plus and they make the system more efficient, but they will never replace poster paint. Gouache painting is an art, it is a know-how that remains unique and necessary in fine jewelry.

Creation in Piaget gouache of one of its latest novelties
Creation in Piaget gouache of one of its latest novelties

The gouache painting comes after the sketch, enhancing it to “make it more lively and realistic”, specifies Sivrière. “It is still mandatory today to have a better idea of ​​what the sketch might look like before it is made. Plus, it’s to scale, which is necessary for workshops.

Gouaches are used in all of Piaget’s fine jewelry collections, often to tease and arouse the interest of customers before the pieces are shown. Piaget also uses gouache in its special orders for bespoke creations. “It’s the most qualitative and realistic way to present our creations,” says Sivriere. “In addition, our clients appreciate its creative resonance. It is a unique painting of their unique jewelry.”

The School of Jewelry Arts and Piaget both recognize the need to protect and perpetuate the art of gouache. The school offers courses for the public and budding students to learn about gouache from leading experts such as Fulchiron. At Piaget, the company allows new students to train in art every year thanks to sponsorships that the brand has with various Swiss schools, in particular the Prix Piaget HEAD Jeunes Talents and the Prix Piaget Romand, which identify creators and talented up-and-coming jewellers.

The art of Piaget gouache detailing the precious details of its Palace Décor technique
The art of Piaget gouache detailing the precious details of its Palace Décor technique

At this point, you might be wondering, but what about computers? Couldn’t digital tools – computer-aided design software and even artificial intelligence – have the ability to replace the need for hand-drawn renderings?

Fulchiron notes that while computers also have their place in the creative process, pencil sketches, for the most part, are still the starting point for most designers, and a trained eye can still easily distinguish between a hand-drawn sketch. hand or computer generated drawing. . “The day when this difference becomes less visible, designers will have the choice to use one or the other according to their preferred technique”, specifies Fulchiron. Yet in fine jewelry, where every step of the process is done by hand, hand-drawn renderings in gouache will always retain an exclusive and special place within many houses.

But all means have their advantages and at Boucheron, the oldest jewelry brand on Place Vendôme and yet one of the most contemporary jewelry stores today, “staying open to the possibilities available to you helps you express your dream” is important for creativity. director Claire Choisne.

“Gouache painting is a medium that allows our jewelers to understand what is expected,” she says, adding that the drawing phase can take up to six months. “However, this is not the only tool at our disposal. What inspires and fascinates me is the freedom of the means used to realize our dream. Sometimes the dream can be realized with simple techniques and, in this case, we will not reinvent a technique. However, we allow ourselves the possibility of testing and playing with new tools never used in high jewelry, as long as they help us to express this creative dream, such as making a cotton model, wrapping flowers around our fingers, playing with a real ivy branch and so on.

In the Nuage en Apesanteur necklace from Boucheron’s Contemplation 2020 high jewelry collection, Choisne’s goal was to recreate a cloud so light that it levitates around a woman’s neck. To render this extreme delicacy and lightness, she turned to sculpting cotton directly onto a bust and then scanning it, rather than using the more traditional gouache. Then, a programmer brought her vision to life by creating an algorithm of compound clouds of dots, stitching together droplets of different sizes in different densities.

The creation of Boucheron fine jewelry
From the model to the rendering of the Boucheron Nuage necklace in Weightlessness

“Then, bringing our cloud to life, we replaced the dots that made it up with more than five thousand diamonds and small glass beads set on titanium wires, each as thin as hair,” concludes Choisne. “If we had limited ourselves to drawing the cloud on a gouache, we would never have been able to create this necklace.”

Yet she concedes that gouache remains a living art in the industry that has unique abilities – “capable of giving the illusion of a 3D result on a 2D drawing”, she suggests as an example – as well as playing an important role in any archive. .

Gouache paintings serve both as testimony to the creation of a piece of jewelry and as a source of inspiration for the future. At Boucheron, Choisne says she is lucky to have an archive full of sketches and photos dating from the Housecreation of Frédéric Boucheron. Her January collections, called Histoire de Style, often take an archival gem and reinterpret it for the modern era.

At Piaget, the feeling is the same. “Gouache paintings remain part of our heritage and help us date a drawing afterwards,” explains Sivriere. “When we create new pieces, we will go there to find new inspirations in order to stick to the DNA of the House.”

The result of a current vision, the beginnings of a new production, a master plan for craftsmen, a sales tool, the promise of a precious jewel and, finally, the recording of a past dream. Gouache painting in high jewelry is an art to be protected at all costs.

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